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The last time I mapped out a user journey was during a pitch process. The only reason I did a user journey was to demonstrate to the client how the user would get from point A to B without having to wireframe all the pages to show our solution. I haven't created a user journey since. I'm wondering if I'm underestimating the value of a user journey as a deliverable. Perhaps I should be using them a lot more to demonstrate my thinking? I'm wondering in what scenarios are user journeys most effective?

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Thanks Ben, I was unable to create a user-journey tag! –  Reloaded Jul 22 '13 at 21:51
    
Just candidly: cheers for asking this question - it's one of the tools that I hadn't pulled out of my hat for a fair while. Good to be reminded of it's usefulness ;) –  Dirk v B Jul 25 '13 at 7:27
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5 Answers

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I'm with @Michael Lai, and think they're a great tool to have in your bag for the right case.

What they can help you with:

Understanding the client

As a UI/UX designer you often come into new environments, sometimes very complex ones. User journeys can help you understand processes that might be way out of your field of knowledge, by allowing your client to map out the processes involved in their business.

Determining priorities

They can be incredibly helpful in the process of determining the importance of certain elements in your design. So where it might not show up at all during most of the user journey, it will feature prominently at a later stage.

Example: "Subscribe to our newsletter" might be a footer element throughout your site, but in the middle of your screen after a user has just made a purchase, when they feel best about your product.

Identifying obstacles

User journeys can help you identify obstacles, especially when doing mapping journeys for currently existing sites/applications.

For example, you might find out that after sending a message, the user ends up on a page with nothing but a "thank you" message, instead of going back to his inbox.

Streamlining

Visually mapping out all the major user journeys, you might find that there are some common routes, hubs that could be avoided or maybe even an important journey that's far too complicated.

For example, on forums, moderators might have to look up a user's post history quite often. Adding an icon next to each username that links to an overview of this user's posts, saves them from going through that user's profile page all the time.

Scale and stages

Mapping out all the major journeys can also give you a good idea of the scope of a project, and allow you to divide a project into separate stages.

A few more use-cases:

  • Sales tool: Properly visualized you can use a user journey to sell a project to a big client.
  • Test case base: Thoroughly mapping your user's journeys also makes for a solid starting point for writing test cases later on.

I found this article a good read as well.

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Thank you, this was a great answer! –  Reloaded Jul 30 '13 at 11:49
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As with many of the UX deliverables, it depends on what you believe the best way to communicate the information to your audience is. This is also a debate going around about personas and how useful they are to the design process. In my opinion, I generally try to create some sort of 'user journey' as a way of working out all the different things that a user might come across in different usage scenarios, and where they might encounter pleasant or unpleasant experiences. I then try to make sure that in the interactions we don't let them hit too many unpleasant experiences in a row, or if they do then we need some way to make those experience less unpleasant. As I said before, it is just one of the many tools you can use, and when you come across different clients, projects or UX teams you might find it useful again.

I think you should think of UX assets as something that both you and your clients can benefit from. So don't do it just because they ask for it if you also find it useful for yourself. Often we get too caught up in the wireframes and UI designs that we don't get the chance to step back and look at the bigger picture, and user journeys are great for understanding the entire flow of the user interactions. If you create user journeys for the different personas and use cases, you might come up with some great insights on the user experiences that are important and you should focus on.

The last thing I can think of is that it allows everyone on the team to share an understanding of the product because it provides a perfect complement to personas. There are also many training and marketing assets that can be developed from a well designed user journey map.

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I have found the journey maps effective in following ways:

  • Time spent - I normally map timings of varous user steps. This help quantify and identify possible inefficiencies

  • Repeated task - I did a study of the Washington DC Metro Rail ticket purchase process, and I found that the user had to calculate the amount of money multiple times due to the gap between making selections and depositing money. Journey maps helped me identify such redundancy in the process

  • Unnecessary/forced tasks - Color coding varios steps of the journey also helps me identify which tasks the user cares about v/s which are required by the system

There are other context specific observations.. but overall I think it's a very effective tool.

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For me, the value has decreased with the popularity of customer experience, instead I find myself referring to an Experience Map if the project permits.

I find the lines are blurred between User Journey and Experience Maps as they're similar models albeit the latter tends to be more visual.

Adaptive path have a helpful article that explains their approach to journey models and distinguishes an Experience Map from a straight forward journey map (which this thread refers to) and a more archaic service blue print.

If your project allows enough time to gather the research to identify the required insights to create an Experience Map, then consider these five steps inspired by the adaptive path article:

The Lens – Universal principles that apply across all users types.

The Journey Model – Should diagram key steps at the highest-level.

Qualitative Insight – Approaches that have worked for me have been using auxiliary verbs, like 'Does', 'Is', 'Has', which help build a structured research approach to identify what the user needs, motivations & goals are.

Quantitative Information – Having access to analytics or sending out surveys to subscribers, ideally needs to be captured over time from a sizable sample. Data can be used as facts to back up field studies.

Takeaways – The model should identify outcomes and outstanding things to be decided upon.

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Great points. User journeys and experience maps seem to be the splint and cast of ux mapping; one providing a precise fix, where the other encapsulates the entire issue. –  Dirk v B Jul 26 '13 at 1:33
    
... that analogy might've made more sense in my head than it did in a comment, but there it is. –  Dirk v B Jul 26 '13 at 1:34
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I think, user journey map - is a must have for every project.

User journey map helps you understand not only how user moves from page to page, but how he thinks and what he feels at each point of journey.

When you know what user thinks and what user feels, it is easier to understand his general behaviour, you know how to motivate him to do the action you are calling to. As a result, you can design better user experience.

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Every project, really? Even if they have tight deadlines with not enough time to gather research required for this kind of deliverable? –  dpg Jul 26 '13 at 13:57
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